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Democrats seize on national security

Embrace issue where GOP holds a perceived edge

WASHINGTON -- Democrats yesterday proposed a wide-ranging strategy for protecting Americans at home and abroad, an election-year effort aimed at changing the public perception that Republicans are stronger on national security.

Republicans, for their part, criticized the national security policy statement as a stunt.

''We are uniting behind a national security agenda that is tough and smart, an agenda that will provide the real security President Bush has promised, but failed to deliver," said Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada.

His counterpart in the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, said Democrats were providing a fresh strategy -- ''one that is strong and smart, which understands the challenges America faces in a post-9/11 world, and one that demonstrates that Democrats are the party of real national security."

They spoke at a news conference at Union Station, near the Capitol, in front of banners reading ''Real Security." They were flanked by some of the Democratic Party's top authorities on national security, including retired General Wesley K. Clark and former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright.

In the strategy, Democrats vowed to provide US agents with the resources to ''eliminate" Osama bin Laden and ensure a ''responsible redeployment of US forces" from Iraq this year. They promised to rebuild the military, eliminate dependence on foreign oil, and implement the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission. Those are many of the same proposals Democrats have offered before.

Republicans did not let Democrats portray themselves as stronger than them on the GOP's signature issue.

''Their behavior has been totally inconsistent with what they're now promising to do," said Vice President Dick Cheney. Interviewed on Fox News's ''Tony Snow Show," Cheney said that he did not believe Democrats had a credible plan for tracking down bin Laden and that their plan to move US forces out of Iraq this year ''would be a strategic retreat."

''It makes no sense at all to turn Iraq over to the terrorists," Cheney said. ''We can succeed in Iraq. We can complete the mission."

The Democratic statement lacked specifics of a plan to capture bin Laden, the Al Qaeda chief, who has evaded US forces since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But Democrats suggest they will double the number of special forces and add more spies to increase the chances of finding him.

Democrats also do not set a deadline for when all of the 132,000 American troops now in Iraq should be withdrawn.

The Democrats' security platform represents the latest in a series of policy statements for 2006, and its release is occurring seven months before voters decide who will control the House and Senate.

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